Freelance photojournalists have to hustle. Many make it work by balancing longer personal projects, quick day-rate assignments, commercial photo work, and even other jobs such as teaching or bartending.
It can be even harder for photographers to stay motivated with typical industry malarkey like terrible rates, waiting months to get paid, and editors disappearing when freelancers attempt to check in. “Returning a phone call to say ‘Hey, I’m working on this and haven’t forgotten about it,’ takes less than five minutes,” says Erin Trieb, who has shot for ESPN The Magazine and Rolling Stone. “There’s no reason why that can’t happen more.”
CJR went looking for silver linings by spotlighting publications that treat photo freelancers well. Similar to our story about the best news outlets for writers, we spoke with 30 freelance photojournalists with a focus on aspects like pay, relationships with editors, and respect for photography. We encourage those with positive freelancing experiences to contact Carlett Spike at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can update this story.
Here are six outlets that multiple photo freelancers recommended:
The Washington Post
What it is: Recently branded with a new slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” The Post is the paper of record in DC with burgeoning national ambitions digitally. Freelancers credit Chloe Coleman, The Post’s photo editor, with respect and thoughtfulness in working with photographers.
What they pay: Multiple freelancers confirm The Washington Post’s day rate is $350.
What freelancers say: Freelancers said they like working with editors at The Post because they clearly respect photography. Maddie McGarvey, an Ohio-based photographer who has worked with a number of publications including Mother Jones, USA Today, and NBC News, tells CJR that she enjoyed her experience and the assignment she was given. “They called me for a long assignment in Kansas, working on a story about a Muslim girl just sort of navigating life,” she says. She met an editor a few months back at a portfolio review who liked her work. McGarvey appreciated that he remembered her and thought she would be a good photographer to cover the story.
RELATED: The Washington Post‘s secret weapon
What it is: According to its website, Harper’s is the oldest general interest publication in the US. Freelancing for the monthly, award-winning magazine is a dream for many photographers and writers. Harper’s, which tackles charged topics around politics, seems to equally value the importance of photography alongside written stories.
What they pay: Harper’s is one case where it was hard to nail down a standard day rate. Reported rates ranged from $500 to $1,000. Freelancers said those assigned to conflict work make $1,000 per day.
What freelancers say: Yumna Al-Arashi, who’s worked with The New Yorker and The Guardian, tells CJR she most likes working with Harper’s because they are willing to take on unconventional stories. Another freelancer, Victor Blue, adds that he appreciates that the magazine is doing more with photography to enhance its overall storytelling. “They are dedicating more pages to photography than almost any other publication in the United States,” said Blue, whose photography has appeared in Time and Newsweek. Blue adds that Harper’s art director Stacey Clarkson James, and deputy art director Sam Finn Cate-Gumpert, are really pushing the envelope when it comes to documentary photography. “[James] is someone you can get in touch with and you can pitch to. She’s down to talk.”
What it is: Known for its deep dives and explorations with a science focus, National Geographic dedicates a lot of space to photography. Some recent photo essays featured on its website include a beautifully shot piece on grass-eating monkeys, one on women in Nepal exiled for menstruating, and one story showing the other side of Russia.
What they pay: Associate photo editor Mallory Benedict tells CJR the flagship National Geographic magazine and its corresponding website pay day rates in the range of $500 to $650, with the possibility of higher rates in certain circumstances such as conflict zones. Separately, we found that National Geographic Traveler pays $425 per day, according to its website.
What freelancers say: Brendan Hoffman, a Ukraine-based documentary photographer who’s worked with others like Getty Images and Newsweek, tells CJR that he found National Geographic to be receptive to pitches and accommodating of challenges on the ground. He pitched a story about illegal amber mining in Ukraine and got the okay to work on it for five days. Around the same time, Hoffman went out to get photos, there was a police crackdown on amber-mining activities that delayed his work. Despite this, his editors saw the value in the story and worked with Hoffman. “After 6 months I finally was able to get the picture. They were very patient and didn’t put a lot of pressure on me and just let me figure it out,” Hoffman says.
What it is: The 24-hour network offers a wide range of coverage across multiple mediums. With a worldwide reach, including over 1.5 billion digital pageviews per month, working with CNN gives freelancers great exposure. The network has also done more with photography in the past few years, including launching a photography blog in 2011. Bernadette Tuazon is CNN Digital’s senior photo editor, and she accepts pitches here.
What they pay: Multiple freelancers confirm CNN pays a day rate of $650, plus $150 for post-production editing.
What freelancers say: Freelancers liked CNN because they offered a better day rate compared to most newspapers. Demetrius Freeman, a New York-based photographer, says CNN displays its photography thoughtfully. CNN featured one of Freeman’s projects in 2015 on the declining state of Hoyerswerda, Germany, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. CNN featured 14 of his photos in a slideshow format, and an accompanying article reflects on his experience and artistic vision for the work.
The Wall Street Journal
What it is: The business-centric newspaper published by Dow Jones also covers national news, world news, culture, and politics. With a stated mission to ramp visuals across all platforms, the Journal promoted Lucy Gilmour to director of photography in 2015.
What they pay: Freelancers report that The Wall Street Journal pays $400 per day for assignments and will typically cover expenses.
What freelancers say: Libby March, a photographer based in Michigan and New Hampshire whose clients include The New York Times, AARP, and Bloomberg, tells CJR she found the editors gave good directions and know how to communicate with freelancers. “They tell you exactly what they want and are looking for in the photos,” she says. Another photographer, Daniella Zalcman, tells CJR she really enjoyed doing a story for the Journal about a Jewish community in North Africa. “It’s this magical, stunning place in the middle of the Mediterranean, and the community feels slightly unstuck in time.” She adds, “Amidst so much journalism in that region that centers on chaos and ever growing tension, it was nice to find this quiet pocket of relative calm.”
The New York Times
What it is: Many photographers we spoke with work with the Times but had a hard time endorsing it as a top choice for freelancers because of its low day rate.*
What they pay: Times editor for photography Michele McNally told CJR that The New York Times recently increased its day rate to $450, from $200.
What freelancers say: For most freelancers, working with the Times ends up being a tradeoff—sacrificing pay for the experience to work with great editors and reach a wide audience. “The pay is not good, but the work was so consistent over the years that I was able to cover my bills by treating it almost like a [day] job. I was working most days of the week for them,” says Kirsten Luce. Another freelancer, Andrea Morales, shares similar sentiments, but tells CJR the editors there are what she most appreciates. “I’ve loved every editor I’ve worked with there,” said Morales, who has also worked with for The Wall Street Journal and ProPublica. “They really position you for as much success as they can.”
Honorable Mentions: We wanted to note a few publications that did not make the list, but still received a fair number of endorsements. Those include Bloomberg Businessweek, Time, and AARP.
Other Resources: Many freelancers who spoke with CJR also highly recommend that freelance photojournalists look into grants and other opportunities to help support them and their work in such a tough industry. Here are a few with links for photographers:
* Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a new day rate for freelance photographers working with The New York Times. The newspaper boosted its rate this month. Also, after this post went live, National Geographic reached out with more details on its day rates. The story has been updated to reflect those.Carlett Spike is a freelance writer and former CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @CarlettSpike.